Lectionary Commentaries for August 1, 2021
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

from WorkingPreacher.org


Commentary on John 6:24-35

Robert Hoch

Our narrator hints that even though the crowd “finds” Jesus, they don’t comprehend who he is: “Rabbi,” they ask, “when did you come here?” (John 6:25).

Is this a coarse understanding of Jesus? Sure, why not, let’s say it’s coarse. But we might not want to be too hard on immature understandings in John or, for that matter, in ourselves—the narrator has a way of turning those “dull” moments into dazzling insights.

Consider that gem of a story, the Samaritan woman (John 4:1-39). Raymond E. Brown sees a nearly “perfect parallel” between the dialogue in this text and Jesus’ playful interaction with the Samaritan woman (John 4:1-39):

  • Bread Discourse: “Do not work for the food that perishes” (John 6:27);
  • The Woman at the Well: “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again” (John 4:13);
  • Bread Discourse: “Sir, give us this bread always” (John 6:34);
  • Woman at the Well: “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water” (John 4:15). 1

Like chapter four, this chapter will also culminate in testimony.

Jesus uses the double amen (NRSV: “Very truly, I tell you”) four times in chapter six (see verses 26, 32, 47, and 53). Maybe one could run with an emphatic expression, something like, “The fact of the matter is,” or Brown’s “Truly I assure you,” or “Let me firmly assure you.”2 None of these translations do the phrase justice. On Jesus’ lips it speaks to an assurance that his message is guaranteed by God: “[Jesus] is the Word of God; he is the Amen.”3 Maybe that helps us to hear the double-amen of chapter six as it leads to the declaration that our work is to believe in Jesus. For John, there can be no confusion: Jesus is the bread of life and life itself. Not even our lives, which most of us love and enjoy, are complete in themselves. “My life,” writes Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “is outside myself, beyond my disposal. My life is another, a stranger; Jesus Christ.”4 In John, Jesus is life itself (John 1:4) and has come so “that they may have life” (John 10:10).

When we read the narrator’s “Father” language in verse 28 and elsewhere, it is helpful to remember that this is not an endorsement of patriarchy or hierarchy. John speaks in an egalitarian, personal, and communal key, and often in ways that elevate women’s testimony in an androcentric society. If it is not an endorsement of patriarchy, what is it? It goes to the writer’s way of talking about intimacy with God and Christ. While acknowledging the text’s language, feel free to experiment with other forms of God-talk that speak to the contemporary context and help listeners grasp the function of “Father” talk in John.

Those who hear Jesus want something that they can do: “What must we do to work the work of God?” (verse 28, see also John 4:15). At least initially, some prefer action from Jesus rather than remaining with him. While it is tempting to think that those who don’t “get” Jesus are slow or dull (and Jesus’ comments sometimes lead us to conclude that they are), in John these misunderstandings frequently lead into some of the most memorable and beloved teachings of Jesus. Many of us have come to love John’s Gospel precisely because we didn’t “get” Jesus—and when we did “get” Jesus it was because Jesus got us!

An Alcoholics Anonymous slogan exhorting the practice of the 12-steps comes to mind: “It works if you work it.” Maybe there’s something of a meeting point between the crowd and Jesus on this point since he does not give work instructions but rather faith instructions: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (verse 29). What if the act of believing is kind of like the “work” in AA of surrendering to our Higher Power? Faith or trust in Jesus, the one who has come down from heaven, is the work of God for the believer: it works if you work it!

In that light, it makes sense that John never uses the noun for faith (pistis) but always its verbal form, pisteuein (“believe,” “have faith,” “come to faith,” or “put faith”). Brown defines its use in John as denoting an active commitment to a person, especially Jesus. Significantly, 74 out of 98 uses of pisteuein in John are in the Book of Signs where Jesus invites people to have continuing and active trust in him.5

The second emphatic corrects the crowd’s exegetical conclusions (our ancestors ate manna from heaven, given by Moses, etc.). Jesus’ exegetical move attunes his listeners to God’s faithfulness today. They demand, “Sir, give us this bread always.” What they demand is what they already have in the presence of Jesus: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (35).


In December 2020, we moved from the U.S. to the United Kingdom to be closer to family. On arrival, we went into a mandatory two-week quarantine. Pandemic-England didn’t feel the same without walks up Pendle Hill, a local landmark; our kids visited with their grandparents, whom they hadn’t seen for over a year, through a window. There were no hugs. It was a strange sensation to have come so far and yet at the same time feel so distant.

We were not alone in that feeling. It extended to our neighbors, Nancy and Mike, who live opposite us in a neighboring house. We had waved to each other a few times, but that’s all. But one day as we stepped out of the cottage, Nancy came out of her front garden, calling out to us. In her hands, she held a freshly baked sourdough, still warm from the oven. It was for us, she said. No, it wasn’t possible to visit as she would have liked. Yet maybe this is a sign of a future table that we can share as neighbors. The future still hasn’t arrived, but it feels closer than it did before.

This experience comes to mind as I reflect on this text. Nancy was saying more than the 500-grams of flour, more than the 75-grams of starter, more than the water, the folding, the rising, the sleeping, more even than the joyful eating. Instead, the gift was almost vow-like: “With this bread, I do pledge ….”

Maybe our narrator would approve of the analogy. But perhaps our narrator would remind us that we don’t eat analogies.

“We can believe in justice as a thing,” says artist and theologian, Elizabeth Gray King. “We can believe in love and care and kindness and humility. But until we start living and acting as love, living out that care, graciously spilling over with kindness and working with others in humility as compared to power, a belief is just a belief, almost an object to be admired … Believing in resurrection is ok. Living resurrection is quite another thing.”6


  1. Raymond E. Brown, The Gospel According to John: Introduction, Translation, and Notes in The Anchor Bible (Garden City: Doubleday & Company Inc., 1966), 267.
  2. Brown, 260, 281.
  3. Brown, 84.
  4. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics in Ilse Tödt, Heinz Eduard Tödt, Ernst Feil, and Clifford Green, trans. and ed., Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works: Volume 6 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), 250.
  5. For a detailed exposition of the verb, “believe” see Brown, The Gospel According to John, 512-15.
  6. Elizabeth Gray King, “Sermon” (Didsbury: Didsbury United Reformed Church, 11 April 2021) accessed on 21 April 2021.

First Reading

Commentary on Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15

Stephen B. Reid

The large narrative arc of Exodus through Judges describes the liberation of the Hebrews from Egypt to settlement in Canaan. During this itinerary certain narratives recount the ways the Hebrews shared complaints with Moses and his God. Two large concerns dominate these narratives: food (Exodus 16:1-35; Numbers 11:4-34; 21:4-9; 11:1-3) and spring/water (Exodus 15:22-27; 17:1-7; Numbers 20:1-13). Sometimes these stories include etiology elements. However, no local etiology that would draw attention away from the theme of the dependence on God occurs in Exodus 16. The providence of God characterizes God’s guidance of the Hebrews in the wilderness.

This food narrative combines meat and bread, the latter a generalized metaphor for food. The wilderness stories recount the rebellion of the children of Israel: the rebellion against God and the priestly agents, in this case Moses and Aaron. Nonetheless, God is responsive and listens. God also provides provision despite the complaints.

The exodus story breaks the region into three options: Egypt, the wilderness, and the promised land. The wilderness is a liminal space between Egypt and the promised land. What happens in the wilderness stays in the wilderness. The stories from the wilderness become virtue stories for life in the promised land. The wilderness locates the rebellion outside the normal realms. Anthropologists such as Victor Turner have called this liminal space. Such liminal or edge space is not normal but shapes the normal.1 The issue of rejection of God and divine emissaries in the monarchy and exile make the wilderness stories into cautionary tales. The rise of a monarchy increased the disparity between the wealth of the king and the scarcity for those beyond the royal and priestly circle.

Initial complaint Exodus 16:2-4

The whole congregation participates in the rebellion and complaint against Moses and Aaron. The consensus of rebellion shapes the story.

They complain about the present reality of a troublesome liberation with a fictitious enslavement. The whole congregation addresses their speech to Moses and Aaron but implicates the LORD who delivered them. This pattern occurs in other wilderness wandering stories. The fictitious memory of enslavement “if only” posits death instead of life in liberation. Nonetheless, the second part of the speech recognizes God as the agent of history, “by the hand of the LORD.”  However, the community misremembers enslavement as a time when enslaved persons sat by fleshpots and ate their fill of bread. The enslavement in Egypt likely was not the same as chattel slavery practiced in North America, nonetheless, it would be unlikely that enslaved persons receive all the food they wanted. The tone of the speech turns with a direct indictment of God as the one who brought the whole community into the wilderness for annihilation by hunger, not liberation. The whole congregation does not address God directly. The appetite for food made the people “hangry.”

But God responds to the speech of the community with a counter speech to Moses. God is going to make it rain. The culture of Israel knew rain as infrequent but necessary for life. The metaphor “raining cats and dogs” likely comes from a similar sounding Greek phrase cata doxa; contrary to belief that is unbelievably hard. The verb rain occurs in Genesis 7:4 in connection with the flood narrative, Exodus 9:18 with the plague of thunder and hail. God vows not only to “rain” but to rain “bread from heaven” a phrase that only occurs here. The bread from heaven is both gift and test: Can the people follow directions (Exodus 16:5-8)?

Exodus 16:9-15

The complaints come from everybody, and the instructions go to everyone. The hierarchy in the passage is clear. God speaks to Moses, who speaks in turn to Aaron, who speaks finally to the people. The imperative “draw near” metaphor couples with the accusation that God has heard the complaints of the whole congregation of Israel. The ongoing proximity of God made it possible for God to overhear. But that overhearing compels the community to draw near as a way to express solidarity with God.

As Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of Israel, they faced the wilderness evoking an appearance of God, a theophany in a cloud. It is almost as if while in the wilderness they did not see the wilderness, nor the God who accompanied them through that wilderness. Once again God speaks to Moses. God’s hearing of the complaints at this point in the story does not prompt divine anger as appears in Numbers 11. The instructions indicate that meat will be the evening meal and the other meal bread.

The biblical text often uses questions to point to the origin and nature of different aspects of life. Here is yet another example. The text provides an etiology to set forward how manna received its name. When people saw the frost like bread, they asked the question, “What is it?” Moses responded to the question with the confession that this was the bread that God provided. The theme of divine providence recurs throughout the wilderness wandering stories.

The bread of heaven accentuates the power and generosity of God. It also critiqued the monarchy of Israel and Judah. The rhetoric of an economy of scarcity persists in the contemporary season of COVID disparity, manifesting itself in toilet paper shortages among other products. The metaphor of bread from heaven provides a counter-narrative to scarcity we experience.


  1. Victor Turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure (Chicago: Aldine, 1969).

Alternate First Reading

Commentary on 2 Samuel 11:26—12:13a

Timothy L. Adkins-Jones

There is something particularly striking about beginning this lectionary selection with Bathsheba discovering Uriah’s death and the seeming speed with which David took her as his wife. Though the time of mourning mentioned in verse 27 would have customarily been a week, the way these two verses read, David’s taking of Bathsheba feels almost immediate. The seeming abruptness of their union serves as a way of deepening the callousness of David’s actions.

Add to this the fact that there is no mention of David mourning the loss of one of Israel’s best soldiers and the depths of David’s depravity are on full display. And even though such mourning might be understood to be hypocritical to the reader because of David’s direct role in Uriah’s death, we at this point don’t have any sense that David feels even a modicum of regret or guilt for his devious actions.

Not only does David lack remorse, he is repeating trauma that has been directed his way.  David’s plot against Uriah is eerily similar to what was plotted against him by Saul. Back in 1 Samuel 18, well before he became king, Saul plotted to kill David by sending him into the heart of Philistine territory with a task that seemed insurmountable and his wish, as we’re told in 1 Samuel 18:25, was for David to fall by the hands of the Philistines. David is, morally speaking, at his lowest point, which makes the change of heart prompted by Nathan’s prophetic word nearly miraculous.

Personal inductive prophecy

Nathan’s story is a masterwork of inductive prophetic storytelling. He takes a bold and imaginative prophetic stance before King David that results in a changed mind.  Rather than simply telling David where and how he had wronged God, Nathan inductively pictured the truth to David. Nathan wanted David to notice his error on his own without having to plainly tell him.

Lloyd Steffan in an article entitled, “On Honesty and Self-deception: ‘You Are the Man’” describes Nathan’s prophetic task as the work of pulling David out of self-deception.[i] Steffan argues that Nathan is close enough to the situation that he understands that David is self-deceived. He goes on to suggest that self-deceivers need a subtle word; they need a technique that addresses some inner issue indirectly.[ii] There was an “aha! for David; he saw for himself where he was wrong. Sermons from this passage may inspire the kind of communal reflection that can help uncover where individuals or even entire communities are self-deceived.  David needed someone else to help him see his problems and it stands to reason that a direct telling would not have been received well. This is the same man that just had somebody killed to cover up his illicit love affair.

For many reasons David seemed unreachable, yet Nathan not only got through to David, but his words ultimately prompted David to declare that he had sinned against the Lord. Nathan’s story about the ewe lamb, while problematic in equating Bathsheba with property, still was able to bring about this moment of realization.

A preacher might explore why this inductive style of prophetic engagement was able to get through to a man that had such power and privilege. We might also wonder together about what things are so ingrained in us, that they require this kind of subversive message to address. One might talk about how rebuke, guilt, and repentance work in our settings, and how Nathan and David’s interaction provides a model for our behavior together in community.

Rhetorically speaking, it seems that sermons from this passage might themselves model the inductive prophetic method that Nathan uses. How might we bring congregations along to “aha moments? Could a sermon based on this passage be its own “aha?

Congregational inductive prophecy

Stepping back from the specifics of David’s wrong, this passage offers a model of prophecy that pushes against the most common understandings of what prophetic work looks like. The prophetic is often imagined as singular and direct declarations of God’s word. Yet here, in working to change some deep-seated feelings that David had, Nathan uses a different inductive method that might be instructive for larger work, and work with groups. How might a preacher use this passage as a model for a different kind of prophetic work, a more personal and inductive style of prophecy that might help individuals within a community see where “they are the man?”

It seems that Nathan’s method is worth emulating, but also with the realization that his method would not have worked without relationship. And as much as I believe the indirect, storytelling method of prophetic oracle spoke to David, it is also important to remember that Nathan had a relationship with David. It is not only the method that struck David, but the relationship that existed between Nathan and David allowed for reception of the message.

David and Nathan first meet in 2 Samuel 7 when David is pondering building the temple for the Lord. Nathan originally encourages David to move forward with his plans for the temple but then the Lord speaks to Nathan, instructing him that the temple would be built by David’s offspring (2 Samuel 7:12-13). David receives this word and puts his temple building plans to rest, responding with a prayer of gratitude. This history, the trust that David has in Nathan’s ability to share God’s word surely plays a part in David’s willingness to listen.

How might we inspire people to build the kind of relationships that allow for difficult and corrective conversations between us?


  1. Lloyd Steffan, “On Honesty and Self-Deception: ‘You are the Man,’” The Christian Century, April 29, 1987, 405.
  2. Steffan, 405.


Commentary on Psalm 78:23-29

Paul O. Myhre

When one approaches an abstract painting by any one of the 20th century abstract painters—Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollack, and so on—they are met by art work that prompts cognitive dislocation and reflection.1

Some will look at a Pollack painting and quickly conclude that anyone could do it or swiftly conclude that it looks quite similar to a drop cloth I have for painting projects around the house.  Rothko’s corpus of work might elicit similar response.

Yet, it seems the reflection would be more about how his work looks like a bad wall painting job where a number of spots were missed and where the tone is not quite consistent with the rest.  It is as if the average viewer of abstract art wants to place the body of work in a category of home improvement or children’s art.  Those who have studied art or who are more comfortable with ambiguity or who want to suspend quick judgment about the quality of art might conclude that the works themselves merit further reflection not only about the art and the artist who created them, but about our own cognitive, affective, and visceral reactions to them as art and gateways to the divine.

They are capable of evoking strong emotion on the part of the viewer and scratch the surfaces and underbellies of one’s theological and anthropological reflection.  Some people have been found weeping in the Rothko chapel as they contemplated the art before them.  What they thought they knew as one thing opened them internally to new insights about themselves and their own spiritual journey.2  The lack of narrative depiction of things already known has resonance with a contemplative journey toward sitting with the God who exists both within and beyond human comprehension, definition, or knowing completely.

Psalm 78 functions roughly like this for me as I read it.  On one level is seems to be a rather flat recounting of major events in the history of the people of God.  Ordinary time is pictured as something that is punctuated by the interventions of God at various moments that later become touchstones for subsequent reflection about the activity of God in the past as relevant for the present.

Maybe the poetry of this Psalm invites reflection about what we have seen and know to be true even though we cannot clearly define it in the present.  Maybe it is like seeing fossilized footprints of a dinosaur in a limestone rock.  The beast that lumbered over soft soil 65 million years ago had a host of attributes—some of which we know and some of which exist outside our capacity to know.  Maybe it isn’t all that different from trying to imagine the smell of its skin, the color of its eyes, the sound of its breath, the texture of its brow, and the taste of its flesh.

We may want to know but we cannot.  Yet knowing that the dinosaur existed and embodied all of those attributes still exists outside of our capacity to really know what those attributes were with precision.  The beast cannot be resurrected from fossilized bones by human desire.

For some this Psalm may appear to be like just one more time around the old house looking at the same walls we have seen for years, gazing on the same objects adorning the walls that have been there for perhaps more than a decade, the same paint and trim, the same window treatments, and in short, the same old scene.  We know it so well that we convince ourselves that there is nothing new to notice.  Yet, Psalmist poetry has power breathing within it to provoke new ways of seeing the same old things — like Pollack and Rothko with ordinary oil paint.  Maybe there is something more to discover or something new to see in this Psalm that we had not noticed previously.

For example, when walking through the rooms of my house I am often struck by how different the same room can look at different times of the day or during different moods I am in as I walk through them.  For example, my living room will look dull and cave like in the evening when the light is dim.  It can even seem cozy or quaint.  Yet, because of the paint tone, when sunlight enters the room during the late afternoon the once cave like wall is transformed into a bright limestone color rivaling any stone in the walls surrounding old Jerusalem.

How I experience this room can depend on a host of factors that are cognitively, affectively, and environmentally related.  So it is with poetry.  Our own mood can affect the way we read or hear it.  Our own mental frameworks forged in economic, political, sociological, psychological, and ideological realms can color the way we see something.  Since it isn’t dependent on a direct 1:1 ratio for reading and understanding it, but is often open ended and dependent on the hearer’s capacity to allow their mind and emotions to be open to it, poetry can help us see the familiar stories and experiences of life in new light.

The poet psalmist in these few verses transports readers/hearers to places where the people of God wandered in a great desert of sand.  They had been freed from slavery in Egypt by an act of God, yet we learn from Exodus that they were not satisfied with simply freedom to wander the Sinai.  They wanted something more.  In response, God gave them abundance in their time of scarcity.  They were given a great communion feast in which they received more grace than they could comprehend or receive.  Skies were raining manna from heaven—grain from God and the food of angels.  One would think that would be enough.  Yet God provided even more.  The winds that blew across the Sinai brought quail in abundance and their bellies were sated. God is good they must have thought.  Yet even then the people were not satisfied.

For me, the phrase “what they craved,” verse 29, stands apart from other lines of these verses.  We move from the grand sweep of divine activity to the more fundamental dimension of human longing.  The skies are pouring forth food through a great aerial cornucopia brought about by the activity of God and still the people crave more.  All of the activity from verse 23 through 29 except those final three words concern the work of God for the people of God.  Here we discover the reason for God’s gracious acts of kindness.  It is in response to what the people desired. Out of love God provides for human wellbeing.  In Hebrew the word translated as “crave” or “desire” is thauth.  It means basically to long or lust after something.  It is a desire that won’t easily be satisfied even when one has received what they want.

Perhaps Psalm 78 is not only a reminder of the grace acts of God for the people of God, but of the human propensity to be dissatisfied with what they have received.  Maybe the Psalm carries a message for contemporary society bent on consumption and as such environmental degradation.  Maybe we have already been given enough for our needs.  We only need to recognize it.  Perhaps the Psalm invites a new way of being in relationship with the world and with others who inhabit the planet.  Maybe the Psalm invite reflection about the very nature of God and God’s concern about the people of God and the world God has made.  The abstract may not be as abstract as we may have initially thought.


  1. Commentary first published on this site on Aug. 5, 2012.
  2. Rothko Chapel http://www.rothkochapel.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3&Itemid=6

Second Reading

Commentary on Ephesians 4:1-16

Richard Carlson

Not only does this text mark the halfway point of this epistle, it introduces the focus of the second half of the letter. Ephesians 1-3 stands as a celebratory reminder to the letter’s audience of their new, shared identity in and through Jesus Christ. Formerly, the audience had been Gentile aliens, therefore, they had not been members of God’s chosen, holy people. They were apart from Christ and thus had lived a hopeless, ungodly existence (Ephesians 2:11-12). Now, however, they have been immersed in God’s grace through Christ’s death and so are citizens and members of God’s household (2:13,19). They are part of the risen Christ in whom God is uniting the entire cosmos according to the mystery of God’s salvific plan (1:9-10; 2:6-7; 3:8-12). As participants in the Christ-established, new humanity (2:15-16), the letter’s recipients are also reminded that they are now members of the Church which is the Body with Christ as its head (1:22-23).

The crucial, introductory “therefore” in 4:1 serves as a pivotal appeal for the audience to manifest who God has called them to be (which is the core focus of Ephesians 4-6). Most English translations, however, misdirect the opening exhortation in 4:1 through wording such as living a “life worthy of the calling” (for example, NRSV, NIV).  When we hear the word “worthy” it is not unusual for us to think in terms of “deserving,” as if we are to live in such a way that we deserve to be called by God.

The Greek word used in 4:1 is axios, an economically-based term describing how the two sides of a scale are to be in equilibrium. Thus, the appeal here is for Christian living to be in equilibrium with God’s call. Christians live out who God has already made them to be. Christian conduct not only flows out of the new reality created by God, Christian conduct puts into concrete action their new reality in Christ.

Throughout Ephesians, a hallmark of our new divinely wrought standing is unity. In 2:11-22 our God-established unity was imaged as the tearing down of the dividing wall which formerly had separated and segregated Gentiles (for example, the letter’s audience) from Israel. In the text at hand, this is the unity derived from and maintained by the Spirit. It is the unified divine condition of one body, one Lord, one Spirit, one God in which we have one hope, one faith, one baptism (4:4-6). Here in Ephesians this is more than just God-created unity. It is living in the total reality of God’s own self (thus the emphatic chain in verse 6 depicting God being “above all and through all and in all”).

The axiomatic Christian conduct (depicted in 4:2-3) which maintains and manifests this unified, divine “oneness” includes humility by which one does not think they are superior to other members of the one body. It involves relating to each other with patience and acceptance. It entails lifting each other up rather than tearing each other down; being cooperative rather than being competitive or combative. The divine origin of our call empowers such a divine vocation (God’s “calling,” verse 1). Our text understands this to be true spirituality. That is, it is the product of the one Spirit by which we demonstrate and sustain the unity of the one Spirit. Again, the reality of Christian unity enacts itself as, in, and through unified conduct.

Within this divine oneness, Christ graciously gives the gift of diversity (4:7-13). In this context, the gift of diversity is depicted as various positions of leadership within the body of Christ including apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers (4:11). The focus and emphasis here are not on the functions of these positions (or offices). Rather, here in Ephesians the focus and emphasis of leadership diversity are both Christological and ecclesiological. These positions do not arise out of the contextual needs of the community. Rather, these leadership positions are graciously given by the descended and ascended Christ (note the emphatic repetition of Christ’s giving action in verse 7,8,11) for the proper functioning of the body of Christ (elsewhere in Ephesians described as “the Church,” 1:22-23; 3:10, 21; 5:23-32). Such proper functioning involves all the members of the body (for example, the saints, verse 12) being equipped for service in order to build up the community so that it would come to the full stature and unity of Christ (4:12-13).

Thus, in this text there is a tensive relationship between the unity of the community and the growth of the community. The community is a unified whole from the start because the community is the one body of Christ (4:4; so too in verses 12, 16a, 16b). At the same time, the community is not a stagnant entity. Rather, it is a living organism which grows into who it already is. Leadership positions are given by Christ to enhance the community’s growth into its full stature (or its full maturity) which is also a component of its Christian unity. Conversely, communal immaturity involves disunity and contentiousness caused through trickery and deceitful schemes of those who perpetuate false doctrines (4:14). Here in Ephesians 4 neither the identity of these tricksters nor the content of their false teachings is presented, though in 4:27 and 6:11-12 these are regarded as marks of the devil’s attacks against the community of Christ.

That which makes for the community’s true and full growth entails “speaking the truth in love” (4:15) within and among the members of the community. In 1:13, the “word of truth” was depicted as “the gospel of salvation” which includes both the announcement and the enactment of God’s saving work in Christ (1:7-14). To speak the truth in love entails a communal relationality which lives out of our original Christ-unified reality and grows into our full Christ-unified reality (4:15-16).

Ephesians 4:1-16 is very concerned with “church growth” but not really in terms of contemporary understandings of “church growth.” Its understanding of and focus on church growth is not focused on the quantity of congregations or its membership numbers. After all, the Church is one. Rather, church growth involves how the one Church and its multiple members are equipped by Christ to reflect the qualities of its unity and growth in love (note how “love” bookends the focus on growth in verse 15-16).